Observations

Getting It Right When There’s Money on the Line

Another entry in a series we like to call Observations.

John Stossel wrote a piece about prediction markets shortly after the 2022 midterms, explaining why prediction markets are still a good thing even though many of the predictions that were made there for the election did not come true. His take:

Bettors [may be wrong, but] at least adjust their predictions quickly.

Last night, while clods on TV still said “Democrats and Republicans battle for control of the House (CBS),” those of us who follow the betting already knew that Republicans would win the House.

Historically, bettors have a great track record. Across 730 candidate chances we’ve tracked, when something is expected to happen 70% of the time, it actually happens about 70% of the time.

That’s because people with money on the line try harder than pundits to be right.

As you can imagine, this last line was music to my ears.

We’ve built our record business on the fact that we have the experience, the expertise and the staff needed to find the best sounding pressings of many of the most important recordings of all time, from Dark Side of the Moon to Kind of Blue and everything in between.

And, as everyone knows, we charge a premium price for our Hot Stamper pressings, often ten and twenty times their “market value.” This has been known to upset some people.

But can we charge more than our customers are willing to pay and still be in business after 35 years?

Some people must think they are getting their money’s worth, at least, that’s what some of them tell us.

We have to back up our opinions and our descriptions with actual records that deliver the sound we say they will, or we would have gone out of business a long time ago. You can fool some of the people all of the time, etc., etc.

Guaranteed?

This is in sharp contrast to the audiophile reviewers who tout one new record after another with no guarantee whatsoever that you will find anything like the superior sound they spent an endless number of words describing when you finally get the record on your turntable.

Where do you go to get your money back when the record doesn’t have the sound they told you it would have?

If it’s heavy vinyl, there is nowhere for you to go.

If it’s a Hot Stamper, you send it back to us and we refund your money.

We have to be right almost all of the time if we are going to be successful in the record business. We charge a substantial premium for records that look very much like other pressings, with little in the way of collector value. If we were wrong more than a small fraction of the time, buyers would quickly tire of the hassle of returning our records.

There is nothing special about our records other than the way they sound. If you are looking for a particular pressing because you think it will sound better than others, you don’t need us to find it for you. Just go to discogs. The specific pressing you seek is probably up there and a whole lot cheaper than ours, that’s for sure.

We get paid to find out what the best pressings are, and we do that through our shootout process.

If you think you already know what the best pressings are, you can save yourself a lot of money not buying our pricey Hot Stampers. How you would come by this information without doing time-consuming and expensive shootouts, using stacks and stacks of copies, refining your understanding over the course of many years, even decades in some cases, is a question best answered by those of a less skeptical nature.

The long and the short of our success can be summed up in three words: we try harder.

There is money on the line. We cannot afford to be wrong.

Back to Stossel:

They also adjust quickly when they see they’ve made a mistake.

Ah, yet more music to my ears. The 109 entries in the We Was Wrong section as of 2022 means that, unlike 50 million Elvis fans, we can be wrong, and we make no attempt to hide the fact.

We make mistakes and we learn from them. We adjust quickly.

We do not want to lose a customer by sending him a record that is not as good as it should be.

If you want to predict who is more likely to be right about the sound of any given pressing, the guy with money on the line is your man. That’s us.

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Reality has a surprising amount of detail (and so does audio)

Presenting another entry in a series of Big Picture observations concerning records and audio.

John Salvatier has written a very interesting essay. It’s not short but I think it is well worth the time it will take you to read it.

The parallels to records should be clear to anyone who has spent much time on this blog.

Those of us who have run record experiments by the thousands have learned to accept that identical looking LPs can vary dramatically in their sound quality.

Even two sides of a single record are often very different sounding.

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Paraphrasing Hayek – Our Curious Task

F. A. Hayek summarized his view succinctly when he noted that “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

Our curious task has been to demonstrate to audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them how mistaken they are to believe that they can understand the sound of a recording by playing a single pressing of it.

Similarly, the modern mastering engineer operates under the pretense that he can design and operate a cutting system that produces consistently superior sounding records to those made in the past. Based on the hundreds of the modern records we have played, this is clearly a case of over-promising and under-delivering.

These assumptions, and the half-baked knowledge that flows from them, are clearly unsupportable. The scores of commentaries we have written on both subjects provide all the evidence required to falsify them, and, with some effort, can be found among the 5000 postings on this blog.

The Hot Stamper pressings we sell, so much bigger, livelier, and more engaging than anything produced by these so-called audiophile mastering houses, are simply the physical evidence of our deeper and more correct understanding of records and their manifestly mysterious properties.

FURTHER READING

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Thoughts on Classical Music and My Hot Stamper Collection

So what I can’t get out of my mind, you have been doing this all these years, your own personal collection must be the creme de la creme. Cannot even imagine. But sure would love to hear!

Dear Chuck,

I’ve had an extensive record collection for all of my life, right up until about fifteen years ago. Starting at the tender young age of 10, I bought the 45 of She Loves You on Swan records, which I still own. Can’t play it, it’s broken, but I keep it anyway. When I was a kid, I used to take my two dollar weekly allowance and buy two 45s with it. Did that for years. Still have them, close to two hundred in old carrying cases. I look forward to playing them in my retirement.

I had hundreds of amazing sounding LPs in my collection, the best of the best from more than 20 years of doing shootouts. About fifteen years ago I asked myself what were all these great sounding records sitting on a shelf for? I never played them because I got to hear all my favorite records every day, and after playing records all day, the last thing I wanted to do at night or on a weekend was pull a record off the shelf and play it.

So I put all my personal records into shootouts, and sometimes they did well and sometimes they did not. (Those of you who go back and play your old records from years past will surely find some real surprises, both good and bad.)

I sit my wife down from time to time when the stereo is at its peak playback quality after doing shootouts all day. I might put on Deja Vu or Back in Black or The Wall or some other amazing pressing we’ve just found, and I always point out to her that this is a record that will be gone next week. This is it, listen to it now because you will not have the chance again for many months, sometimes even years.

Most audiophiles outside of our customers rarely have that experience, but it’s really the only way I listen to music anymore, on the best pressings in the world.

I play mostly classical records these days, which, on the best vintage pressings are really a thrill on big speakers at loud volumes. We had to stop going to the Santa Barbara symphony because the sound was better in my listening room than it was in that hall. Practically all of the performances on vinyl were better too, to tell you the truth. I can’t compete with Disney Hall for sonics, but it takes two hours to get there and good tickets are $300-500 each. It’s tough to make the commitment at those prices, especially when you have spent your entire adult life building a great stereo and room. Suspension of disbelief is immediate and lasting.

The best classical recordings cannot compete with a good orchestra in a good hall, but it has been my experience that those two things in combination are very hard to find in the real world. Fortunately for me, the memory of the music and sound I used to hear at the Disney Hall faded after a few weeks, at which point I could go back to playing my classical records and enjoying the hell out of them.

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts I wanted to share with you today.

Best, TP

Thought for the Day – Getting Older and Losing Patience

Another entry in a short series we like to call Observations.

I’ve noticed an interesting development in the world of record collecting, one that seems to be true for both me and many of my customers.

As I’ve gotten older I find I have more money, which allows me to buy higher quality goods of all kinds, especially records. At the same time I seem to have much less tolerance for mediocrity, as well as less patience with the hassle of having to do  too much work to find a record that’s truly exceptional, one that actually will reward the time and effort it takes to sit down and listen to it all the way through.

As a consequence, if I’m going to play a record, I’m going to make sure it’s a good one, and I don’t want to have to play five or ten copies to find the one with the magic.

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